The Bottom Line in Talent Mobility

I recently gave a keynote address at the Worldwide ERC Hong Kong Summit focusing on Diversity and Inclusion trends and the impact on Talent Mobility in Asia. Despite today’s geopolitics, trade tensions and tightening immigration policies, I see a favourable trend in Asia Pacific. By 2021, there will be one million plus mobility assignments for Asia talent, exposing a clear uptake in regional mobility. (Yvonne McNulty, Expat Research & John Rason, Santa Fe Relocation, 2015).

Trade tensions creates winners and losers but for ASEAN, (the 10-economy bloc of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), the turmoil has been positive for business and employment with improved trade and proximity to China. With a 8.6% of the world’s population and a nominal GDP of $2.31 trillion, ASEAN has the economic capability to be a driver of growth. (JP Morgan & Singapore Statistics,2018)

This business growth will, no doubt, primarily be through a young, educated workforce. In addition, Asia Pacific MNC’s must focus on identifying, developing and retaining regional talent to sustain this growth. 64 percent of C-Suite executives (Conference Board/DDI 2018) cited leadership development and talent retention as one of their biggest concerns, few believing they’re currently doing an effective job developing global leaders. The global challenges facing business (and society) demand an approach to leadership development that is completely different from those that have previously fared well. Capturing cross-regional growth opportunities requires a diverse leadership team with the right capabilities: a global mindset, cultural agility, and Asia Pacific market knowledge.

For the past three years, I’ve met with C-suite executives across Asia about their challenges with Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, some which worked and others that stalled. Through these discussions, I uncovered two areas and opportunities for Diversity and Inclusion that will impact on mobility and the development of future global leaders.

1) Short-term secondments, commuter or project-based assignments provide hands-on development and experience across cultures. Some leaders — regardless of past performance — may not perform at the same level in another country. As the demand for global leaders with ‘local roots’ increases, a series of multiple, short-term Asia Pacific assignments will enable development. Pre and post-move development planning is critical, and the best development program will be tailored to the individual, supported by the ‘sending and receiving’ managers. Connect the dots between leadership development and this short term mobility project. Describe what is important for success- both for the individual and the business. Outline two leadership development goals and one business goal that will have a meaningful impact on performance and can be measured.

2) Focus on the individual. Organisations need a ‘’more thoughtful approach.’’ suggests Jod Gill, Director — Personal Tax, Global Mobility Services, KPMG in order to retain talent. Discussing in advance how skills developed in one assignment can be applied in subsequent roles and assignments. Upon returning from the assignment, there must be rigorous evaluation of the impact of the move on the individual and the business.The ‘receiving’ managers must be able to engage in meaningful career discussions with the returning talent. These conversations matter. Even if an assignment was highly successful, the conversation must shift beyond functional expertise to address the aforementioned leadership goals and better understand the activities and challenges that forced them to change.

Career conversations make a difference across the organisation, particularly upon returning from an assignment. A few years ago, I worked with a Japanese firm after they launched a mobility program to build a diverse talent pipeline in Asia Pacific. On paper the plan looked great, offering language training, working on high level strategic projects and moving into a higher position upon return. No expense was spared.

Exit interview data uncovered a higher level of turnover with this group of mobility talent. The interviews revealed a perceived lack of transparency on advancement, as well as perceived unfairness in leadership selection. This is consistent with Diversity and Inclusion research, which indicates that if employees see an organisation with “fair” and inclusive practices, they will vote with their feet.

In general, while Japanese firms have lower attrition rates, analyzing the exit data helped pinpoint the specific populations leaving in higher numbers. Exit interviews helped identify why this talent was leaving: A perceived lack of transparency. More important, the data reshaped the mobility practice, embedding pre and post mobility planning and in-depth career conversations. Resulting in a reduction of voluntary turnover.

One size doesn’t fit all. Tailoring leadership development and focus on the individual is the first step in mobility and building inclusion. To develop a diverse bench of talent requires more than remuneration and moving across countries. Talent retention will differ across organisations, generations, cultures, and functions. Identifying the motivations of employee fulfilment requires a fundamental understanding of individual aspiration — what gives each person a tangible sense of meaning at work? The key to retention is to learn how to have such conversations. Having a discussion on potential career paths provides a sense of direction and purpose.

Keeping track of mobility is critical for talent management and succession planning. Two relatively new, HR platforms, twine or crunchr, helps organisations track and manage talent. Using new streams of data offering insights on employee preferences, workforce planning, and talent management and helping business leaders make evidence based decisions.

This is indeed what [some progressive] firms are doing today in order to build a diverse talent base and an inclusive work environment.

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